Thursday, June 30, 2011

Transformers 3 Dark of the Moon - On High-Adrenaline Visual Spectacle & Immoral Trade Practices

The Decepticons are back, and they are convincing Sentinel Prime (Optimus’ erstwhile predecessor as leader of their home planet Cybertron) of an invasive plot against the Earth. Cyberton has ceased to become habitable.

Meanwhile, back to Earth, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has just recovered from a heartbreak (Megan Fox’s Mikaela broke up with him). He hooks up with the exceedingly adorable Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). But all is not well in Sam’s world. Sam misses his robotic pals (Bumblebee has been preoccupied elsewhere). He is also desperately unemployed and, despite having saved the world twice and gotten a Presidential medal from Obama, Sam becomes part of the statistics – though he still has a few more interviews up his sleeve. Times are indeed tough even for heroes.

If that wasn't enough, something sinister is a brewing.

The narrative takes us back to 1969, the year humanity made huge leaps on space exploration. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. But some salient discoveries have been kept from us – i.e. that the team has discovered a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden at the dark side of the moon, and forces have been after such “rubble”, including Megatron’s allies. Only 35 souls knew. For 50 years, this was a well kept secret.

When Optimus Prime, who carries the “matrix” to repower autobots to life, brings Sentinel Prime back to existence, little did they know that there was indeed a plot to revive the dead planet of Cybertron, by invading Earth and transporting Cybertron into the realm of the blue planet which would, eventually wreck havoc on its resources and inhabitants. This would be done through the 5 “pillars” found in the spaceship. These pillars have the capacity to reshape the universe through teleportation, a power that defies laws of physics. And once again, the fate of the world is in the hands of unemployed Sam and his few allies, no thanks to Mearing (Frances McDormand), a CIA honcho who has condescendingly downplayed Sam’s previous save-the-world effort as mere messengerial duty.

Fun in science fictions rests on the intuitive capability of its story tellers to make every detail plausible, and for the most part, “Transformers” succeeds. The mere transformation of vehicles into robots simply takes your breath away, as every detail has distinct sharpness, and wearing your 3D glasses (which I am not a fan of) takes you to a whole new level. There is stereoscopic grandeur in every slam-bang scene, and the relentless action stokes you like an adrenaline rush that goes on and on and on.

However, Director Michael Bay has to learn to hold back from his propensity for mind-blowing action. Movie goers empathy, as I earlier said, rests on believability. When a human limb gets cut off, the movie audience experiences fear for the possibilities of death and destruction. When humans fall off a 100-story building which is being crushed into smithereens by Shockwave, we experience anxiety because in reality, people who fall off tall buildings die. This makes “Transformers” an alternate world of fantasy, and when Optimus Prime gets his arm chopped off, yet he still charges ahead dauntless and ever powerful, we sit back and get sensitized. After a while, the whole relentlessness of implausibilities loses its novelty. Ho-hum.

Sam and Carly

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the former Victoria's Secret model

When you challenge reality, you soon end up with a jaded audience who thinks that if Sam Witwicky gets shot, that’s alright. He will still live. They all do.

And that’s not such a great reaction.

Shia LaBeouf has become a formidable screen hero and for a good reason. He is charismatic, young and inhabits Sam Witwicky with endearing charm. If only I didn’t have to pay more for an unwanted popcorn!

Josh Duhamel

Shia LaBeouf for GQ

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley


And yes, it has been called to my attention that the SM Group of Cinemas have been overcharging their patrons, peddling products that consumers do not necessarily want. If you haven’t noticed, Mr. Henry Sy’s chain of movie theaters have been relentlessly hiking their admission charges that in the last 5 years or so, their prices have escalated to an alarming 75%. Isn’t there a governing body to check these unscrupulous practices? The Philippines is still a developing country and allowing these cinema chains to continually hike cinema seats is immoral. This isn’t Singapore or Hong Kong where its movie going public could afford high value entertainment.


Watching "Transformers 3" in SM was like highway robbery!

A 3D seat is charged P250. You actually see this itemized on your ticket. This is enumerated as follows: Gross – P250, Net – 250, Basic charge – P227.05, 10% Amusement Tax – P22.70, Community Tax (C Tax) – P0.25. Total – P250. Nowhere could you find the P50 they blatantly collect for an unwanted popcorn. But upon payment, they charge you P300 - inclusive of the P50 fee for an unwanted popcorn! Isn’t this deceptive? Why do I need to buy popcorn when the service I want to avail of is only the admission for a movie screening? Trade practice stipulates that every purchase shall have a receipt, otherwise this constitutes a violation. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (B.I.R.) has to take note of such irregularity.

Why popcorn? There are non-popcorn eaters, you know. Why not a choice of, say soft drinks or chips. Why shove popcorn down our throats? Why this desperation? Isn't Mr. Sy rich enough already?


When I handed my ticket at the cinema entrance, I was asked to go back for my popcorn. But I am not a popcorn eater? What do I do with my P50 popcorn? And really now, doesn’t this unscrupulous and gravely greedy trade practice something to ponder on? I’ve been told that the Sy family has indeed embraced the religious life, thus you won’t see any R-rated flicks (from the impeccably crafted “Brokeback Mountain” to the brain-challenged “Hangover 2”). The big honcho has also been listed in Forbes’ list as one of the world’s richest men. This makes us proud as Filipinos. Who doesn't admire hard earned success? However, you somehow hope that such religiosity, influence and wealth will filter through their trade practices, particularly in their cinema chains.


If you think I’m one of the very few who complains about such practice, google away. There have been several who, apparently, have fallen on deaf ears. The SM people have apparently sent representatives to meet with the complainants but nothing much has really been done about the complaints.

This was anonymously forwarded to me:

Department of Trade and Industry, wake up!

The movie going public also needs to be protected. Otherwise, there really is a tangible reason why people would resort to buying pirated films instead!

Secretary Domingo boasts of a very impressive trade and industry portfolio. He was former Manager Director of the Chemical Bank in New York and the Chase Manhattan Bank in Manila. He is Wharton-educated (where he holds a master’s degree in Operations Research). He was also a member of the academe; he lectured International Trade and Business Law at De La Salle University’s MBA Program. Now isn’t that a tall order? If you’re not impressed by such glowing resume, I don’t know what would.

But the interesting sidebar here is: He served as undersecretary for the Board of Investments, and also was Executive Director of SM Investments Corporation. And would he brush off our concerns under a rug? Let’s hope not!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Forever And a Day - KC Concepcion Impresses in Cinematic Jewel

Eugene Silvero (Sam Milby) stands at the fork of a road. As product developer of a shoe company, he is suddenly missing target sales from his ambitious and expensive new product. And his company is pulling its plug. Meanwhile, Raffy Salvador (KC Concepcion) is facing her fears head on. She has a Stage 4 Lymphoma (a cancer in the lymphatic cells of the immune system), but has had enough of the crippling effects of chemotherapy. To escape from each of their dilemma, they separately head to and find each other in dreamy Bukidnon’s recreational camp where they gradually fall for each other. But Raffy has reservations for an impending relationship. Would Eugene back off if he knew of her condition? Would he be able to convince Raffy to give chemo another go?

In Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Forever And a Day”, the answers take a rather pragmatic route, and much like real life, the repercussion of some decisions doesn’t always end in “happily ever after”. The film is an exposition on acceptance more than it is about dealing with grief, and in more ways, this is an unusually brave project for a mainstream production bent on concessions that usually dumb down their audience.

KC Concepcion sheds off her theatrical affectations, the vicarious habits that used to underline her distracting enthusiasm displayed in Joyce Bernal’s banal effort “For The First Time” and Joel Lamangan’s “When I Met U”. In Maryo J. de los Reyes’ “I’ll Be There”, KC was able to flaunt flashes of controlled brilliance, but “Forever and a Day” ushers an inspired chapter when the Megastar’s daughter is finally proving her worth as an actress in serious contention. And though it doesn’t seem so, Concepcion is really just three years in the business, though we presume to have known her forever. Her mother wasn't this proficient on her fourth film (Eddie Garcia's "Cross My Heart"). Can you imagine what she is capable of doing on her 10th year in the business?

As the suffering Raffy, KC pulls away from the usual broad strokes integral in Filipino melodrama. There was a degree of subtle constancy, an unwavering dedication to her character. She never faltered. In fact, her inherent ardor is quite palpable from her facial expression to her body movement. If you’ve never heard of graceful grief, this is how it’s done. And if Raffy fails to tug you in the heart strings, then there is something very wrong with your affect. Suddenly, KC is doing something right.

Sam Milby does well himself as the embattled corporate planner. His motivations were quite understandable, and his concerns thrusted the gravely battered “male ego” to the fore. Gone are Milby’s heavy handed, ultra-emphatic deliveries. He has truly evolved into one of his generation’s most dependable actors (see "Third World Happy" for proof). It also helps that he generates a simmering chemistry with KC.

Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro provide a dreamy backdrop to the emotional predicaments experienced by the protagonists. They perfectly provide a tableau that helps move and highlight the narrative. After this, who wouldn’t want to visit that side of Shangrila?

Director Molina is truly the modern-day exponent of cinematic quotations, but there’s a line in the film that doesn't sit well with us. While Raffy sits beside Eugene, she then looks down, gazes at her shoes and says, “Shoes are the least appreciated things in this world,” which I beg to disagree. We're aware that she was spewing commentary on the seeming expendability of life. But shoes? If that were true, we wouldn’t have an Imelda Marcos. I wouldn’t be buying a pair once a month. Moreover, there wouldn’t be a Eugene Silvero in a movie like “Forever and a Day”. Shoes are indeed much appreciated; people slave away just to plan on buying one. Despite this minor quibble, there are other note-worthy lines. When Raffy talks about the helplessness of her condition, she likens this to “Parang nananakawan… nadaya, even if you’ve done everything right.” Bad things indeed happen even to good people.

The movie is chivalrous in many levels, and we have to tip our hat to Molina’s audacious foray into movie world’s Neverland. Yes, you won’t find a Filipino movie as indomitable in its commitment to delve into the realm of mortality, bereavement and acceptance! It has moments of unabashed mawkishness – the protracted spiels at Raffy’s bedside, but we understand its exigency. More than anything, the film dispenses lessons that most cinematic stories omit or decide to ignore. When life threatens to make a sudden halt, we still try to make the best of our remaining hours. Regardless of its brevity, life is still a precious gift.

For a change, I won’t complaint about the film’s B-rating from this dubious organization called C.E.B.

"Forever And a Day" is clearly a cinematic jewel!

Sam Milby is Eugene Silvero.

Friday, June 10, 2011

No Strings Attached - Kutcher and Portman Suffer Love Phobia

I was told that in France, this was released as "Sex Friends". If that were true, I'd give the French a standing ovation for going straight to the point. Anyway, there's a lot of irreverent humor in this rom-com.

The film, in fact, opens with two children: a young Emma and a young Adam who would eventually grow up as newly crowned Oscar Best Actress Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and funny gorgeous man Ashton Kutcher, respectively. Emma was consoling Adam, and once his tears have all dried up, he nonchalantly asks her; "Can I finger you?"

Much of the narrative coasts with such ribald conduct towards relationship. In fact, Emma, who's a resident physician, agrees to her sexual dalliances with the besotted Adam, just as long as there's no emotional connection. "We're just sex friends; fuck buddies; friends with benefits," she thoroughly describes their relationship to Adam's dad (Kevin Kline).

But the human heart isn't prone to such deceptions. And their sexual proclivities soon turn exclusive. When Emma shuns Adam's truthful confessions, the two separate ways. Will they find each other again along the way? I'll give you one good guess.

With manic energy, intermittent nudity and undeniable charm in the vein of Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal's "Love and Other Drugs", Ivan Reitman's "No Strings Attached" dispenses a few lessons on accepting what your emotions dictate. It does get ridiculous when you're aware that both parties seem to genuinely care for each other. But couplings are never easy for anyone. There are no hard and fast rules on relationships except that when you love, you have to give it your all to be truly happy.

Natalie Portman

Portman: Oscar's best!

Ashton Kutcher

Tie me up, tie me down.

Ashton Kutcher gets wired up!

Australian actor Ben Lawson completes a romantic triangle. He plays resident physician Sam.

Ben Lawson shot to Australian fame in the soap, "Neighbours". He is usually cast as a doctor ("No Strings Attached") or a lawyer ("The Deep End"). Lawson was nominated for a 'Most Popular New Male Talent' Logie Award in May 2007, but lost to Dustin Clare (McLeod's Daughters).

Lawson loves his towels.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Insidious - How To Make Your Hair Stand on End

I've heard of astral projections. But never in the context of a horror story. In this entity, the "spirit" assumes an out-of-body experience, leaving the physical body behind, taking the form of an "astral body" traveling to a realm habitated by malevolent spirits. In James Wan's "Insidious", the astral body navigates to what they call "further" - a dark brooding world of hopelessness and desperation.

I was never a fan of James Wan, the director who megged the first S&M cine-trash, "Saw". This Malaysian-born megman has sculpted a film that, though on the surface, reeks of cliches: a happy family moves to a seemingly haunted house, a possessed child, and things that bump in the dark - is nevertheless a nail-biter. Wan succeeds in manner of presentation.

Sure, there are ashen faced zombie-like creatures that stand behind curtains and sinister looking ghouls with "fire on his face", but they navigate around even in the daylight. After all, monsters don't always sleep in the daytime. A lot of horror films pattern their creepy creatures after the sleep-wake cycle of Dracula: awake in the night, devours people, have fangs and generally possess bad teeth; afraid of the crucifix, and photophobic. Ho-hum.

Well, surprise! In "Insidious", we find them hiding at the cupboards while the sun's poetically beaming in middle class America. We even see one dancing to an old spinning record, his back turned against the home owner. I had shivers! And, finally, we find them playing with the alarm! And by gosh! Made my hair stand on end! I was all spooked out!


When the Lamberts move to a new house, their first child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls off a ladder then goes into coma, although examinations show "no cranial injuries" and normal electroencephalogram readings. When sightings of ghastly creatures become incessantly disturbing, Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, respectively) decide to move to a new place - again! But it becomes clear it isn't the house that's haunted. It's the comatose child Dalton. Now how do they get rid of these pesky "visitors", all out to claim the "empty shell" in Dalton's body?

Give yourself a good scare. Catch it now!

The man with fire on his face...

Rose Byrne

Rose Byrne

Rose Byrne: This Australian actress plays Moira MacTaggert in the spectacular "X-Men First Class".

Patrick Wilson: He was a multi-awarded stage actor (even won for the musical, "The Full Monty") before making it to the silver screen. He'll be seen next in the morality drama, Matthew Chapman's "The Ledge" along side Liv Tyler,

Patrick Wilson (above and below) - As an award-winning stage actor, he even played a big role in "Miss Saigon", essaying the role of Chris (Kim's lover). So you can imagine how powerful his singing voice should be. "Last Night of the World", anyone?

While on the subject of shivers and hair-raising spectacle, hear Patrick Wilson sing "Why God Why" for a scene in Cameron MacIntosh's "Miss Saigon". Amazing powerful voice in this video:

And don't stop there, listen to his "All I Ask of You", his duet with Emy Rossum for "Phantom of the Opera".

Insidious, for those who aren't too familiar with the word, is an adjective that means "stealthily treacherous or deceitful".

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Film Masters Spotlight - Fellini's Road Movie Masterpiece Bristles in "La Strada"

A traveling performer Zampano (Anthony Quinn) pays 10,000 lira to a hard-up mother of eight to secure a young girl named Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) as his performing sidekick. Her older sister Rosa recently died while on the road as Zampano’s former assistant. Gelsomina, who is innocent in way of the world, becomes Rosa’s substitute, but life on the Italian road with the misogynistic busker isn’t easy! For the most part, Zampano is brutish and uncouth, with no hint of tenderness to his younger ward. When Gelsomina meets a tightrope artist they call Il Matto aka “The Fool” (The Clown), Gelsomina suddenly finds a charming friend who even advises her to stick it out with morose Zampano, who’s bitterly cross with Il Matto’s constant teasing. One fateful, bitterly cold day, Zampano finds Il Matto fixing his car on the road. They fight, and the unexpected happens!

Director Federico Fellini’s “La Strada” – “The Road” – is surprisingly contemporary in thematic pertinence. In fact I was quite surprised to find this masterpiece easily watchable. There have been two versions on where the Italian film master got his idea from: one, after a pig castrator in Fellini’s coastal town of Rimini (where he grew up) who “took all the girls in town to bed with him”; second, was from a scenario related to him by his scenarist Tullio Pinelli in one of his road trips through the mountains: Along one of the tortuous winding roads, he saw a man pulling a carretta, a sort of cart covered in tarpaulin... A tiny woman was pushing the cart from behind. When he returned to Rome, he told me what he'd seen and his desire to narrate their hard lives on the road.”

Fellini's strength comes from his ability to deftly tell a story. When he was a child, he spent his leisure time drawing and staging puppet shows. He would field stories from children's magazines. He got his visual inspiration of Gelsomina from Opper's Happy Hooligan. In the last three weeks before finishing "La Strada", Fellini suffered early signs of clinical depression for which he undertook brief therapy.

The Road” - La Strada - won Oscar’s 1956 Best Foreign Language Film, as well as Venice Filmfest’s Silver Lion.


Anthony Quinn personifies the misogynist male who conveniently walks away from what would be his responsibility – as when he decided to abandon the shocked Gelsomina. In the twilight of his life, memories of the once-innocent girl has haunted Zampano’s waking hours. Guilt, after all, is not the easiest to walk away from.

If only contemporary movies were made like this...

Zampano and Gelsomina

Richard Basehart and Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina and The Clown/The Fool, respectively.

Anthony Quinn

Anthony Quinn

Federico Fellini